Movie News & Reviews

Poor little rich killer

I tend to have a biased opinion when it comes to movies about wealthy, dysfunctional families: I couldn't care less about them.

With the exception of Wes Anderson movies (after seeing "The Darjeeling Limited," I'm starting to believe he makes most of his films out of guilt), I'm rarely intrigued by films involving poor little rich boys and girls who grow up jacked-in-the-head because they had to live in a palatial house and deal with their bickering parents and their overprivileged existence.

Oh, poor you! Excuse me while I make another peanut butter and dirt sandwich while I dodge phone calls from judgmental bill collectors!

Anyway, I still attempted to have an open mind when I began watching "Savage Grace," another film involving a hoity-toity family unit and a whole lot of drama. But I soon realized that "Grace" is the worst kind of wealthy, dysfunctional family movie. It's a movie that isn't even that interesting to begin with.

The sad part: It so didn't have to be this way.

"Grace" is based on the true story (taken from Natalie Robins and Steven M.L. Aronson's book of the same name) of the Baekeland family, a clan who reached a fatal end when son Antony stabbed his socialite mom Barbara in their London flat in 1972. (He would later suffocate himself with a plastic bag in Rikers Island in 1980.)

The movie episodically trips through time, as the family jumps from sophisticated locale to sophisticated locale (London, New York, Paris), chain smoking and driving each other batty.

We first see Barbara (played by Julianne Moore) lovingly cradling her newborn baby in her arms. After a childhood of pampering, the boy grows up to be a rail-thin, fish-lipped, effeminate, more-fey-than-Tina mama's boy (Eddie Redmayne, who also does the flat narration), who carries on a codependent and -- dare I say it? -- incestuous relationship with the old lady once it's just the two of them.

You'd think director Tom Kalin would know how to film a sordid true-crime tale such as this, since he began his filmmaking career directing the 1992 Leopold and Loeb docudrama "Swoon."

But "Grace" feels truncated, as though whole reels of this movie are missing, depriving the movie of the clearheadedness that would make what's going on comprehensible.

In the movie, the father (Stephen Dillane) skips off on the fam (with Tony's first girlfriend, no less), even hiding in his home when his boy comes around to drop off a letter. This will certainly make him out to be a dirtbag deadbeat dad in many viewers' eyes.

But Kalin only hints at what's laid out in the book: The growing mental instability of his wife (and eventually his son) played a huge role in his bolting.

Playing fast and loose with the facts is one thing, but deleting the story of what made these people so devastatingly intriguing in the first place -- well, that's just lazy storytelling.

From the way Kalin and screenwriter Howard A. Rodman tell it, when Barbara seduces her son (sadly the only truly interesting thing that happens in the whole movie), it's the breaking point for the ol' boy, who decides to nip this seriously unhealthy relationship in the bud.

Once again, the filmmakers overlook the years of schizophrenia and psychotic behavior on Antony's part, not to mention Barbara using her feminine wiles to "cure" him of his homosexuality (all the men in this movie either are proudly bi or dang well oughta be), that led to the tragic climax.

But even an inaccurate movie like this should find some way to get our attention most of the time. Kalin directs this film with such Cimino-esque self-adoration for his vision that he forgets to have people doing worthwhile things in that vision.

At least Moore once again plays up her scorned, WASPy femininity to the hilt, even though she has done it in far better movies. (As with any Moore performance, there is that signature moment where she loudly, unattractively sobs.)

There is no doubt that Barbara and Antony Baekeland did some heinous stuff in their time. But it's Kalin who ends up committing the most unforgivable act when he puts their story on screen: He makes them boring.